Thursday, 13 July 2017

Singapore has responsibility to speak up on key issues to secure its space in the world: PM Lee Hsien Loong in Munich, Germany, July 2017

This is especially crucial when Republic's security or interests are at stake, he says
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor In Munich, The Straits Times, 12 Jul 2017

Singapore has a responsibility to highlight important issues of concern to the country, deal with them and push its position on them, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

Doing so is particularly crucial when Singapore's security, safety or fundamental interests regarding its position in the world - such as the rule of international law and the peaceful resolution of disputes - are at stake, he added.

"If we don't stand up and be counted, you cannot lie low and hope that nobody will notice you.

"That is how Singapore must conduct our foreign policy," he told Singapore reporters on Monday when asked about the role of small states in processes like the Group of 20 (G-20) summit.

His comments, in an interview wrapping up his six-day work visit to Germany, come amid a debate in Singapore on how small states should behave, with one school of thought stating that they should not comment on issues that do not directly involve them. This was in reference to how Singapore could have handled better its comments on the South China Sea dispute.

Without citing the debate, Mr Lee made the point that even as Singapore, a small country, has to take the world as it is, it also has to protect its interests and do the best for itself in the world. "These two are complementary, they are not contradictory. We have to be aware of the realities, but at the same time that does not mean surrendering ourselves to our fate," he said.

Singapore can contribute by having "something to bring to the table" and working with other countries towards a common cause.

It can do it with other small and medium-sized countries in the Global Governance Group (3G), or big countries in the G-20, he added.

"That is to our advantage, and our voice is heard and we are able to protect and advance our interests."

At the G-20 summit in Hamburg last weekend, Mr Lee called on leaders of the world's major economies to stay committed to strengthening multilateral trade and redistribute its benefits more equally.

He also urged small countries to band together to make their collective voices heard, and achieve their shared interests.

Reflecting on the summit, Mr Lee said it was productive and fruitful from Singapore's perspective.

Singapore, which is not a G-20 member, was invited as convener of the 3G - an informal group of 30 small and medium-sized countries.

"We got our point of view across, we explained what we needed to say on trade, on digitalisation, on jobs," said Mr Lee. "At the same time, I got useful meetings with the people whom I had hoped to meet."

Mr Lee met several world leaders at the summit.

From the broader G-20 perspective, he said, the communique reflected a difference in views and tensions between the United States and the other 19 members. US President Donald Trump rolled back on traditional positions held by the US, pursuing an "America first" policy on trade, and pulling his country out of the Paris climate agreement. So, while the communique reflected a compromise on trade with a pledge to keep markets open and combat protectionism, it also showed the vast chasm between the US and other members on climate change.

"These are very big problems, and the starting points from both sides are very different, so I don't believe these problems will be resolved very quickly," Mr Lee said.

Elaborating on Singapore's foreign policy, he said it has generally moved in the right direction, but has to adjust as the world changes.

"If there is a new government in America, you have to consider what that means for the world; as China becomes more influential, we have to consider how we can develop our relationship with China," he said.

Singapore's foreign policy was in the spotlight recently when Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan criticised a commentary by Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Prof Mahbubani wrote that "small states should behave like small states", and urged discretion and restraint in commenting on matters involving great powers. Mr Bilahari said this view was "muddled, mendacious and indeed dangerous".

Mr Lee did not cite the exchange, but said debates will be "most fruitful" if people speak sincerely and with conviction about their beliefs.


The debate is most fruitful if people stand up, speak sincerely and with conviction. Stand by what they believe in, then you have a clash of ideas, and then we hope we can resolve it one way or the other. But if people do not put positions clearly and you put up a view, but actually you are not sure whether it stands or what is intended, we begin to mince our words or talk in indirections and ellipses... That makes our job more complicated. It is not necessary. Believe in what you say. Speak it, discuss it, and disagree if necessary, and we find the best way forward.

- PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG , on foreign policy debates.

Singapore has broad relationship with China and US, and is working to deepen ties with both: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 12 Jul 2017

MUNICH • Singapore has a broad, wide-ranging relationship with both China and the United States, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He was giving his assessment of ties with both powers in an interview with Singapore reporters at the end of a six-day work visit to Germany, where he attended the Group of 20 (G-20) Leaders' Summit.

Mr Lee also met President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the summit.

On Singapore's cooperation with China, Mr Lee said it includes the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, the third joint project, and exchanges with China's Central Organisation Department.

The man in charge of the department is Politburo member Zhao Leji. He called on Mr Lee in May.

Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam visited China, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has accepted an invitation to visit Singapore, PM Lee noted.

"We have a broad relationship - there are issues that come out from time to time; we deal with them in a mature way and we move ahead.

"We are not at odds with China, and I think China finds it useful also to be friendly with Singapore, so that is a good basis on which to work," he said. Observers had, in recent months, noted that ties were under strain, even as officials note the overall relationship is broad, seen in meetings and high-level visits this year.

Mr Lee met President Xi in Hamburg last Thursday, a day before the summit. Two days later, he met President Trump for the first time.

"I went in with an open mind," Mr Lee said of the meeting with Mr Trump. "We had a good discussion. I focused on understanding how he looked at the relationship and on the broad issues... He was focused."

Also at the meeting were key Cabinet members: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

"They understand, and we certainly understand, that our relationship with America is a very broad and substantial one," Mr Lee said.

Both countries cooperate in many different fields, from defence to the economy to security issues.

Regardless of president or administration, these are interests Singapore wants to push ahead with, Mr Lee said, adding: "They would like to push ahead too."

On the US withdrawing from the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, Mr Lee said the US had its considerations, and Singapore understood that.

Going forward, Singapore has to see how it can make the best of the situation, both with the other 10 TPP participants as well as with the US, he added.

Asked whether the US was ceding its leadership position on global issues and if countries like China would step in to fill the void, Mr Lee said the US played a unique role. It not only upheld its national interests, but also the global system that affords it maximum opportunity to exert its influence and prosper.

The US sees itself "as a unique society, as a city upon the hill and a light unto nations", he said.

Mr Trump's administration is different. It puts the US first, and places less weight on America's responsibilities for "global public goods", such as security, being the world's policeman and upholding free trade.

Also, other countries do not have the same history, self-image or tradition of realpolitik, he said.

"It is not so clear that if the US decides to play a different role, somebody else can step into what the US' role used to be," he said. "We will have to see how things develop."

Mr Lee also met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. Both have asked their ministers to review their partnership and identify new opportunities for cooperation.

Mr Lee, who has invited Dr Merkel to Singapore, said when she does come, "we can jointly announce the document, to set a new direction for cooperation between Singapore and Germany".

Siemens Digitalisation Hub to help boost Smart Nation effort
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 12 Jul 2017

MUNICH • A new facility in MacPherson that brings together data scientists, software engineers and specialists from other fields will help boost Singapore's efforts to become a Smart Nation, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

The Siemens Digitalisation Hub will develop and commercialise projects in areas such as urbanisation and digital industrialisation, which can be rolled out to the rest of the world.

It "will be the first of its kind globally", PM Lee said as he opened the facility yesterday together with Siemens AG chief executive Joe Kaeser in a ceremony that took place simultaneously in Munich and Singapore.

They also unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion at the engineering giant's Munich headquarters.

Through the hub, Siemens will partner with Singapore companies and universities on major projects.

It is already working with Singapore Power to develop smart grids - electricity supply networks that use digital technology to detect and react to changes in usage - for Singapore and the region, and with ST Electronics to co-create new mobility applications.

PM Lee, who was guest of honour at the event, said Siemens has been a steadfast and valuable partner in developing Singapore's industries and workforce in sectors such as oil and gas, power, transport and healthcare.

He noted that the company first set up a technical bureau that operated as a sales office in Singapore in 1908.

"I think it is fair to say that that beginning has led to success," he said.

Today, Siemens employs more than 1,500 people in its ASEAN regional headquarters in Singapore, while its spin-off companies like semiconductor manufacturer Infineon also have a significant presence, contributing another 4,000 jobs, he added.

PM Lee told his audience in Munich and Singapore that the digital economy is a major element of Singapore's future.

Singapore currently hosts about 50 per cent of South-east Asia's data centre capacity, and the IMD World Competitiveness Centre recently ranked the country first in global digital competitiveness, he noted.

"We have built a strong digital infrastructure and in Singapore, we hope companies can try out innovative ideas expeditiously, in a favourable, conducive environment, with a supportive government - before scaling up for the region and the world," he added.

He said schools have introduced basic coding skills and universities have rolled out compulsory undergraduate modules on digital literacy to make sure that Singapore's workforce has the right skills and capabilities to support these efforts.

Noting that Siemens also provides training for its workers, PM Lee said that Singapore values working with companies that put in effort to train and develop their employees.

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